Generic vs Branded Image sensors

In today’s post, I want to talk about Generic vs Branded image sensors. An image sensor is a photosensitive plate that sits at the back of every camera.

It is the part of the camera that captures light and converts them into digital data (pictures) that can be processed by the ISP + Software.

With that out of the way, I hope that in previous talks, I have been able to convey the importance of sensors to photography.

Because it’s very important.

Megapixels are only but a part of the sensor. Think of an image sensor like a footballer. Let’s say Roberto Carlos. My favourite left-back of all time. Think of megapixels as his left foot. Carlos had a wicked left foot and he could hit a shot from 40 yards out with power, accuracy and swerve.

R. Carlos was renowned for his left foot, but there was more to the man than his left boot. He was fast, strong, intelligent, an excellent dribbler, could spray 50 yard passes and could kill a ball dead with one touch.

So rating him on his left foot alone doesn’t tell you how much of a beast he was. It’s like touching the tail of an elephant and saying that an elephant is thin.

That’s the problem with megapixels. They’re only good for advertising. The sensor itself is a lot more important.

Types of sensors

There are two types of sensors

  1. Branded
  2. Generic

Branded sensors refer to those sensors that are made by a recognized company. These companies will usually stamp their name on it and give it a model number.

Read: Let’s talk cameras 3: filters, demosaicing and pixel binning

The main companies that make image sensors for smartphones are:

  1. Sony
  2. Samsung
  3. OmniVision
  4. GalaxyCore
  5. Toshiba

Generic sensors refer to image sensors that are not made by a recognized company. They have no model numbers. All that you get usually is the megapixels count (resolution) and mostly nothing else.

What are the advantages of generic sensors?

  1. They’re cheaper than branded sensors.
  2. They are easier to source and are mostly mass produced

What are the disadvantages?

  1. The specs are usually hidden away.
  2. We don’t know the technology or the method through which it was made.
  3. We don’t know it’s true capability.
  4. They don’t pass through quality control.
  5. They tend to lose power and “fade” quicker than branded sensors.
  6. The manufacturers usually cut corners when making them.
  7. More often than not, they’re substandard

With branded sensors

  1. You know what you’re getting.
  2. You can see the spec sheet, the technology used and you can have an idea of how well it may perform.
  3. They pass through strict checks and quality control.
  4. They last for a really good time.
  5. Manufacturers find it hard to cut corners because they need to protect brand reputation.
  6. They are made with very high standards

There’s two downsides to using branded sensors tho.

  1. They’re quite expensive.
  2. There’s usually a queue of other companies in front of you waiting for the manufacturers to process their orders.

With generic sensors

Companies go for generic sensors because there’s usually no waiting queues. It’s a cash and carry thing. On top of that, these generic sensors are quite cheap.

These companies also know that people are upgrading phones within two/three years, so by the time the sensor begins to weaken, the owner may have upgraded.

These companies use these cameras and usually keep quiet about it. There’s a huge profit incentive to use generic sensors. Companies can then buy cheap and sell high.

Just so you know, everyone uses generic sensors for their cameras. The only difference is that some companies like Samsung or Xiaomi only use it for the minor cameras (depth or macro).

The smaller companies like Transsion or Gionee would use generic sensors for their main cameras.

Generic vs Branded image sensors

Here’s a very good example below.

Generic vs Branded image sensors

In the image above, you can see that the A12 uses a Samsung GM2 and the Infinix Hot 10 camera is unknown.

Infinix did not supply the name, pixel size, sensor etc. They’re all empty. All that’s left is that you trust them and take their word that this is truly a 48MP camera.

Vivo and Oppo sometimes are also guilty of using generic sensors for their main cameras. Although in the case of Xiaomi, it is the 9a/9c series that were the first in quite a while to use Generic main sensors. The rest all use branded sensors from Sony, Samsung, Omnivision and GalaxyCore.

So what if your phone has a generic sensor. Is it entirely bad? No. Of course not.

In this era where ISP + Software postprocessing can do more than optics, manufacturers can take very good advantage of bad sensors.

Good branded sensors like the Samsung GN1 (Tecno Phantom X) or the GM2 (Redmi 9/Samsung Galaxy A12) can and will produce poor pictures when matched with weak ISP + software.

That being said, if you put generic and branded sensors of the same performance class together, and provide the same ISP and software to them both, the branded sensor will MOST LIKELY perform better than the generic one.

If I had to choose between two phones such as the Redmi 10 and the Infinix Note 10…

Generic vs Branded image sensors

I’ll always pick the one with the branded sensor and preferably better software support.

So all things being equal, a generic 48MP sensor would struggle against a branded 48MP from Sony or Samsung. In other words, all 48MP are not equal.

With that I’ll wrap up this topic on Generic vs Branded image sensors. I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll be around for comments

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